Car Roofline Height: Measuring Cars For Tall People 17

Of all the height biased man made objects, cars are perhaps the most problematic. The one size fits all approach results in poor ergonomics leading to both long term and immediate health hazards. There are some modifications that can be done to improve a car’s fit, but the first step is to choose a car with the most space possible. With so many cars on the market, finding the best fit can be difficult.The measurement most often cited when characterizing a car’s suitability for a tall person is ‘head room’. Headroom is the vertical distance from the lowest point on the seat to a point directly above it on the roof. Here are two major cruxes with this: First, cars that allow the seat to be adjusted really low to the floor of the cabin have misleadingly larger head room, as this position leaves the tall driver with insufficient legroom. And second, it does the driver no good to utilize the top inch or so of the cabin as the roofline cuts off visibility.

This leads me to the hereby coined term, Roofline Height: the vertical height between the foot well and where the windshield meets the roof. Roofline Height is measured inside the car with the floor mat removed, which can often be in excess of 0.5″ thick. Most cars can be measured with just a tape measure.

I have started compiling a complete list of Roofline Heights for cars currently on the market here. Please check it out and post your cars Roofline Height. Or, tell me what car you want measured and I’ll go do it! Below are some of the more interesting findings.

The top three cars are the Ford E-series vans (49.125″), the pre 2007 Scion XB (47.5″), and the Honda Element (46.675″). Other noteworthy cars are the Nissan Titan (46″), the Honda Pilot (46″), the Ford Escape (46.25″) and the Ford Flex (46.375″).

Much to the contrary of popular opinion, behemoth vehicles don’t necessarily provide lots of space for tall people, the Hummer (Roofline Height = 43″) being a prime example.

Finally, while I was at it, I also checked out some commercial vehicles. Most noteworthy are the Ford Transit (51.5″) and the Mercedes Sprinter (52.75″)

In addition to Roofline Height, taller drives also need to consider leg room. However, leg room is more difficult to quantify and furthermore, if a driver does not have enough leg room they can always get a shop to re-position the seat further back on the rails. Then there is also the extent to which the pedals and steering wheel adjust and the comfort of the seat… one obviously needs to try many cars before deciding. However, Roofline Height gives you an excellent idea of what cars will at least have a chance of being suitable.

It is my hope that, with your help, Roofline Height will become a standard measurement provided by car manufacturers. This will make the suitability of cars for tall people more transparent and might even inspire a visionary manufacturer to produce a car with an unusually large Roofline Height! So please use this term whenever you can, post your car’s specs and don’t forget where it originated!

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17 thoughts on “Car Roofline Height: Measuring Cars For Tall People

  • Anonymous

    I strongly recommend an old Mercedes. I have a 1971 W115 and as a 6"8 guy it is so far the only sedan that I have felt comfortable in. There is plenty of headspace, shoulder space (another huge issue) and there's so much leg space that I dont have the seat all the way back.

  • James Rivera

    Well, roofline height is very similar to "headroom." I would have to say a more accurate measurement is from the lowest part of the seat (where the butt sits) to the roofline. Measuring from the floorboard doesn't measure the amount that exists in the current seating configuration. If you were to have every car with the same "seat lap" height, then Roofline height would make sense. The issue is many manufacturers have different seat lao heights, look at SUVs, where the seats are positioned so high to start with that lowering them does little to help. You have a point about the height of the seat being low, but when you talk of knees in the face, you are really referring to legroom. So that also brings into account leg support (under the hamstrings). And on and on and on.But i really think my adjusted roofline height is more accurate, as long as adequate legroom exists. There must be a formula :). I highly agree that the current definition of headroom is inadequate.

    • Tall Adaptations

      Car seats can be modified (I'll be posting about this in a few weeks), cabin space not so much… Thus roofline height tells you what you have to work with.
      It has its limitations, but I feel it does are really good job at characterizing a car's potential for tall people.
      I like your idea for seat to roofline, that too would be a useful measurement, far more useful than headroom!
      Thanks for your thoughts

  • James Rivera

    Yes, the roofline height gives you what you can work with, mine gives you what you currently have. Because when you change the seat, you change legroom required. Comparing parameters that change is a moving target, that's why i preferred as-is parameters. If you have any ideas to modify my Infiniti FX seat, that would be great. On Monday I'll be calling around to shops that sell car seats. I'll go that route if it's not too expensive (I'd like to keep a new seat and install under $1-1.5k), otherwise, why not

    • Tall Adaptations

      Before getting my Honda Element, I tried putting a lower profile seat in my Mazda Protege. I pulled a seat out of a car at the dump, but the brackets did not line up right in my Protege. I tried making my own brackets, but that was a terrible experience. It is just too awkward and tight in these modern designs.

      I plan on putting up a post soon explaining the alternative I tried. But the gist is that I took the cushion off my existing seat. I had to take the seat out of the car to do it, and there is no way I'm ever going to get the cushion properly back on again (it's just on there by gravity now…). But if you aren't concerned about ruining your existing seat, then perhaps try this route. You can put on a thin foam/vinyl layer to test if you like the position.

      It really is astonishing just how much lower you get without the cushion. Suddenly it's like you are an average height person. Airbags line up, shoulder belt goes over shoulder, steering wheel no longer blocks the speedometer, seat's curvatures line up better with your spine, you can see traffic lights, etc. For some time I rode around with just a towel between me and the springs. Man did my ass get cold when winter came.

      In the end, I've gone back to using the original cushion as that low position was no good for my hips; it placed them at an even tighter angle than tall people already have to deal with…

      As far as finding someone to put a new seat in for you, shops may be hesitant because of liabilities. I'm not sure if you are willing to travel for this, but I heard a place called 310 motoring does some modifications for tall people, NBA players and so on, but that's all I know…

      Good luck and feel free to bounce ideas off me!

  • James Rivera

    When you say the hip angle was a problem, what does that mean? Does that mean you had inadequate thigh support? Or does having your knees higher than your hips cause a problem? Thanks!

    • Tall Adaptations

      My knees were above my hips and thus hip joints were flexed more than 90°. I don't think this would be good for anyone for prolonged periods, but it was particularly bad for me as I have a bit of joint deformity called femoral acetebular impingement (FAI). Basically, the femur begins to push into the labrum when hips flex more than 90° (unless combined with external rotation). I've abused my hips and have torn my labrum, so I'm very sensitive to excessive hip flexion. There are surgeries to fix it, but I'm not up for that route at the moment.

      But the benefits of getting your seat lower are so great that, at least for short trips around town, a low seat position may be worth it. Seriously, the safety factor alone of getting better position with respect to the airbags may be worth it. It's one of those things you just have to try.

      On a side note, I have heard of tall people switching to hand controls. So you could lower the seat way down and sit kinda cross legged like… It's a wild idea, I know, but desperate times can call for desperate measures.

      Please note these are just ideas and I'm not saying anything in particular would work. So do this stuff at your own risk!

  • Md Tamim

    Very nice allotment that you have posted me, Car Roofline Height which is very essential for me besides that all. I mean to say that the content will be very helpful for over all. Thanks a lot for posting a uncommon information.

  • Anonymous

    Hi. I am 6 ft 10 and are looking for a new car at the moment. Couldnt agree more with the car roofline height measurement. Vision out the windscreen is my biggest problem. There are plenty of SUVs I can fit reasonably comfortably in but cant see out the windscreen.

    • Tall Adaptations

      Thanks! The question is, how do we get car manufacturers to start listing this measurement…
      Good luck with the search, and as you can probably guess from this site's content, Honda Element is my recommendation 🙂

  • Anonymous

    FYI I'm down to a short list of 3. Subaru Forester, Dodge Journey and Nissan Xtrail. These are the 3 best I've found in terms of headroom and windscreen visibility (roofline height). Would like greater legroom but what can you do. NB I live in New Zealand so we have a lot less choice.

    • Tall Adaptations

      I've never been in an Xtrail. If I were to choose between a Dodge Journey and a Forester, I think I would choose the Forester, first because it has slightly more roofline height and second because it's a sweet car! (not very technical that last bit, I know… and this is without considering price). I've driven my step dad's Impreza a lot, and though he has to spend a lot on maintenance, It's a fine car (roofline height also aside…)
      Good luck!

  • Maximus Dali

    I love your blog! Thank you for taking time out of your day to collect all of this information, it's been very helpful!

    I have a question: I was driving a 2011 Chevy Traverse for a while and found it to be very comfortable. Unfortunately my wife has commandeered it due to her Jetta engine dying, so I am now driving our old 2002 Toyota Corolla.

    Since driving the Corolla I've saved over $200 in gas a month, and its helped me accelerate paying off my debt – I'm only 2 more paychecks to go before I'm debt free.

    That being said, I definitely need a car that I can get in and out of easily without killing my knees, hips, ankle and back. Right now my left knee and hip are killing me! I also don't want to spend money unnecessarily if my Corolla is in GREAT condition, 100% paid for and I'm getting 32MPG easy.

    I was considering doing something very out there…. maybe installing Hydraulic suspension on the corolla that will allow me to lift it whenever I enter or exit – the same systems they use for those Low Riders… I wouldn't use the hydraulics for the nonsense the lowrider guys use it for, but only to enter and exit the vehicle.

    Do you think this is something feasible?

    • Tall Adaptations

      Glad you love the blog!
      I think it depends on how easily and cheaply it can be done. If it's more than a 1000, then you should really be putting that towards a more tall friendly car.
      My virgin car was a 1986 Toyota Corolla, and it's still sitting around at the family farm. I sat in it not too long ago, and man is it small. Besides the floor height being low, the small doors also make it hard to get in and out of.
      The way I get in a small car is head first and the way I get out is butt first. This is the opposite that car manufacturers intended. But with my Honda Element, the doors are so big and the seats high enough that I can get in and out (ingress/egress) the normal way.
      If you have never sat in a Honda Element, you must try before going down the lift kit road!
      But, the lift kit would be a lot of fun!